Never underestimate the impact of the written word, even on a baby. Among its many benefits, it has the ability to transform an ordinary time into a magical place or an extraordinary event. Such is the power of reading. And it’s never too early to start reading to your children.
“Fostering early development is so important,” says Ginny Figlia, youth services librarian at the Howland Library in Beacon. “The experience of hearing language and the exposure to words will set the stage for a life of learning.”
The benefits of reading to a fetus was documented by researcher Tiffany Field, the director of The Touch Research Institute at Miami School of Medicine. “In Field’s book, The Amazing Infant (published in 2007), fetuses were read aloud to each day during the last six weeks of pregnancy,” says Peg Siebert, director of children’s services at Blodgett Memorial Library in Fishkill.
“Using the newborn sucking reflex as a gauge to familiarization, researchers determined that newborns could discriminate new from familiar passages. There’s a comfort and familiarity that babies recognize from being read to, even in the very earliest stages of brain development.” Most libraries offer reading groups for babies and parents. Parents cuddle with the baby while a story is read aloud.
“Babies can learn at an early age that the library is a comfortable, safe place and this creates a feel-good foundation for an association with books,” says Figlia. “Besides the obvious benefit of the cuddling and closeness, they learn through repetitive finger play and develop their large motor skills through touch and interaction with age-appropriate books.”
Read interactive books
When choosing what kind of books to read, Figlia suggests interactive books and books with shapes, colors and textures. “Any time you can integrate songs, rhythms and familiar objects in books, you’ll provide stimulation and comfort to your little one,” says Figlia.
Babies and toddlers also enjoy lift-the-flap and pull-tab-type books, as well as any board books in vibrant colors. Siebert suggests reading books with simple words. “Babies respond much better to rhythm than rhyme, which is better for toddlers,” she says. “They are also fascinated by seeing photographs of other babies.”
Leah Byrons of Poughkeepsie began reading to her son Liam, two-and-a-half, when she was nursing him. “It’s another opportunity to hold your child close and take pleasure in an activity together,” says Byrons. “He’s enjoyed the familiarity of hearing his favorite stories and it’s a wonderful feeling when he snuggles in for a story.
“By the time he was six months old, we were attending the story times at our local library,” she says. “He loved the socialization, songs, rhythms and finger play. Now he’s adapting to the more intricate stories being read. It’s also a great opportunity for moms to interact and socialize.”
It’s now double the reading fun in the Byrons family since welcoming son Case, now four-and-a-half months old. Byrons reads to both boys together, treasuring the notion of creating lasting memories not unlike her childhood. Her parents were avid readers and trips to the library were a regular event, so she hopes to pass on her love of books to the next generation.
“Liam delights in anticipating what’s to come in his favorite stories and is adept at recognizing animals and colors,” says Byrons. “He also enjoys conveying the story back to us, adding his own unique flair.”
Share a bedtime story
Byrons admits it’s not easy to schedule reading time when you have two children under the age of three years old. “You take the moments you can,” she says. “Bedtime is almost always doable and we try to pick up a book as often as possible during the day. The boys are always ready to enjoy being read to at a moment’s notice.”
Even if you think your toddler isn’t paying attention to the book you read, it doesn’t mean they’re not listening. “Children are very used to hearing the television in the background in many homes today and toddlers can still listen while on the move. Don’t force it, but always offer it,” says Siebert.
Keep the boys interested
Byrons’ boys are interested in reading, but many boys gravitate towards television and video games, so how do you keep them interested? Siebert suggests giving non-fiction a try. “Many children prefer non-fiction books that are well-illustrated with photos instead of illustrations,” says Siebert. “For example, instead of reading The Little Engine That Could, try a picture book featuring how real trains are built and what the different styles look like.
At home, keep reading materials accessible to your child on the tables or tuck books into the backseat pockets of the car. Need further proof of the benefits of early reading? Here’s an excerpt from Showing Up for Life by Bill Gates, Sr.: “When he (Bill Gates) was very young, I often took him to the library. He loved to read and often needed to return the books he’d read in order to check out more.
The main reason he read so obsessively was that he was so curious. He didn’t just want to learn about some things. He wanted to learn about everything. Bill remains as much of a reader today as when he was a child and he seems to remember everything he reads.”
Read more about the benefits of reading to your child and find some great book ideas here.
Kathyrn Lukaske is a freelance writer living in Dutchess County.